Posts Tagged ‘Feuerbach’

For Feuerbach, religion is the dream of the human spirit. He maintains that all religious belief is essentially based on and derived from human error and misunderstanding, maintaining that all religious belief is a product of anthropomorphic projectionism. The concept of God is an anthropomorphic projection of the human mind, and as such embodies man’s conception of his own nature.  This was originally conceived of by Xenophanes and Lucretius, and by Spinoza. However, this does not take from his achievement: he clearly articulates the philosophical relevance of man projection God.

The danger, as Feuerbach sees it, is that we are denying our own nature and thus alienating ourselves from what is truly human, by believing that our values are derived from a moral order which is divine in nature. The superhuman deities of religion are in fact involuntary projections of the essential attributes of human nature, and this projection, in turn, is explained by a theory of human consciousness heavily indebted to Hegel.

Hegel’s influence is great: for Feuerbach, what marks man off from the ‘brutes’ is precisely our awareness of ourselves as species-teings, which is not simply an additional fact of which we are aware: it is rather recognition which qualitatively changes the very nature of human consciousness itself. As Hegel states: consciousness is intentional, hence to be conscious at all is of necessity to be conscious of something. For Feuerbach: God is man’s awareness of himself as a species being. His whole though arises from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

Each attribute of God expresses an aspect of the hope humans have to be free from their limitations. For example: God’s holiness is a projection of human desire to be free of sin; God’s creativity is a projection of human sense of finitude and vulnerability; God’s presence is a projection of human sense of loneliness and mutual separation; God’s Trinitarian nature is a projection of the human need to be whole through being an ‘I’ participating in, though distinct from a ‘Thou’; The same method is applied to each of the doctrines of Christian Theology: incarnation, trinity, sacraments, prayer, the Holy Spirit, resurrection etc…

For Feuerbach, the process of ‘mystifying’ human nature begins with theology, with the projection of human species-attributes onto an abstract, but personal, bewing called ‘God’, and is continues by philosophy, which switches the projection from ‘God’ to ‘Nature’, and finally to that ultimate metaphysical abstraction, ‘Being’.  His aim is to change: “the friends of God into friends of men, believers into thinkers Christians… from half-animal and half angel, into men…”

We treat the existence of God as if it were distinct from the question of the nature of God, when in fact the two are part of one and the same thing. We make this mistake because human existence seems to be a necessary precondition for the possibility of possessing human attributes. We see Hegel’s influence: distinction between subject and predicate is a logical or conceptual rather than an ontological or metaphysical one. One could not exist if it didn’t have any attribute at all. Thus, the existence of any entity and its possession of attributes are necessarily connected. We are misled into thinking that we can accept that the predicates which we ascribe to God are anthropomorphisms, while denying that God himself, the subject, is an anthropomorphism, because we mistake the conceptual distinction for an ontological one.

This equation of man and god, this identification of god with human nature, is absolutely fundamental to Feuerbach’s thesis: religious individuals are not aware of the fact that in asserting the existence of God he is apotheosising human qualities.

Religion and Philosophy as anthropology

Feuerbach maintains that philosophy and religion are highly-evolved forms of anthropology. In this, he emphasises the progression of thought through the ages of religious and philosophical texts. The both vary in culture as culture is central to understanding of human nature. Religion is a rudimentary form of man’s awareness of himself as a species being, and is therefore by virtue of that a primitive anthropology, no less than philosophy.

One of his greatest strengths is that he points out that religion applies only to human subjects. The environment is never quite the same from one culture to another, and for this reason man’s conception of God, and, what for Feuerbach amounts to the same thing, his conception of himself varies greatly. We morally evaluate attributes in their own right before we ascribe them to God. Our moral norms determine our conception of God, our very religion, not the other way around: religious person fails to see this.

Feuerbach’s belief in God

Feuerbach was not an atheist: “He alone is the true atheist to whom the predicates of the Divine Being – for example, love, wisdom, justice – are nothing; not he to whom merely the subject of these predicates is nothing.“ He argues that god (or any other logical subject) is simply the sum total of his properties – if the latter are anthropomorphisms then God himself is an anthropomorphism.

A society’s conception of god is a function of the moral value system of the society’s concerned, a fact that which indicates that morality is logically prior to, and independent of, religion. The genuine theorist is, therefore, the individual who values the good whether it has been obtained by God or not. A quality is not divine because God has it; that God has it because it is itself divine: because God without it would be a defective being.

“We have reduced the otherworldly, supernatural and superhuman essence of god to its particular foundations in the essence of man. Thus we have in the end arrived back at our starting point. Man is the beginning of religion, Man is the centre of religion, Man is the end of religion.”

His uncritical acceptance of the assumptions that religious discourse is factual in nature, which may be assessed in purely theoretical terms, blinds him to the nature of the web of logical interconnections which obtains between such terms in religious discourse, and to critical differences which exists between it and that which obtains between these in terms of their factual discourse.

Also, his argument is not strong enough to convince a believer. He is possibly being too analytic and objective. It doesn’t solve anything, but raises more questions.

I admire Feuerbach’s shift from Man created by God to God created by Man. I find it a bit of a cop out to sum up the traits associated with God to suggest that God lies in these traits – but that’s just my perspective! Overall, Feuerbach is a fascinating read: some of his quotes remain my favourite: “…Man is the end of religion.”


Thornton, S. (1996). Facing up to Feuerbach. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion , 103-120.

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